The Spy Chief and Bohemian Rhapsody

Very often, complaints about the stasis of the reform-resistant Intelligence Community recount the same old complaints, about how little the bureaucratic and stovepiped mentality has changed inside its oh-so-thick walls.

Yet I find some encouraging signs, and this week featured another one: the ceremony for this year’s winning entries in the IC’s “Galileo Awards” program, designed to reward innovative ideas and proposals for new thinking and positive change. More than 50 entries came from 14 separate agencies across the community, and this week marked the public crowning (at least, publicly to an intell audience) of the three winning papers.

Just in case you weren't sure - that's DNI Blair on the left, I believe, Freddie Mercury on right

Just in case you weren't sure - that's DNI Blair on the left, I believe, Freddie Mercury on right

And oh, how far we’ve come from the days of DNI Mike McConnell, not to say gray-faced shadowy DCI’s like Dulles and Colby, when we see a DNI rock the stage as Dennis Blair did in Wednesday’s ceremony.

Rock the stage? Well, I take it as a real sign of progressive change in the IC that we now have a Director of National Intelligence who can easily and with familiarity quote from an iconic rock song of the 1970s to make his point:

Everyone knows something about Galileo – if nothing else, as a lyric in the Queen song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” You head-bangers in the audience, if you know what I’m talking about, bob your heads up and down.

For the rest of you who are a little less contemporary, Galileo was the Renaissance scientist who proved empirically that the Sun – not the Earth – was the center of the known universe.  It’s too bad he’s still not around in some modern version to prove Washington is not the center of the universe.

Blair did have a more serious point to make: “We have to work to create an integrated global enterprise that can anticipate and respond to rapidly changing threats. Innovation has never been more important. And keeping the Intelligence Community on the cutting edge of innovation is a critical priority for all of us.”

Unfortunately for those of you without security clearances, the submissions – the “innovative ideas” on how to improve intelligence collection, analysis, and operations – are often classified. So you won’t be able to read them in the open.  Nor should you 🙂

But it is at least worth mentioning, as Blair did, that for the first time in the often CIA-dominated awards, a paper submitted by two FBI officers (often considered the red-haired stepchildren of the IC) received honorable mentions. As Freddie Mercury – oh, sorry, as Denny Blair said: ” That’s an important trend toward participation and collaborative thinking, from all corners of our Intelligence Community.”

My congratulations to the winners – and a tip of the hat to all those who submitted.

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Air Wars: the Air Force Takes Heat for its PR

FACT: A heated online debate is erupting about a particular photo posted online, and the brouhaha around it focuses on whether or not classified details are contained therein, thus revealing them. 

ANALYSIS: Given that others are even now writing extensively about this photo and its controversy I thought I would add a couple of thoughts.  Don’t bother blaming me for linking to the photo, by the way; given the attention and reposting/rehosting it has already received, the glare of publicity can only serve to prod better security practices. 

I expect to see parody versions on Flickr soon, with “Area 51” touches.

And so to my related thoughts: recently, an active-duty USAF officer and regular reader emailed me about one of my posts concerning Rod Beckstrom and the new National Cyber Security Center, which he had not previously heard of.  He wrote that in discussing it with a colleague, the response was “I thought the Air Force Cyber Command already had the mission to coordinate all cyber security efforts.”

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